Local hot spot makes its triumphant return after 2019 fire
July 15, 2020
By Michelle Farnham
GRAYTON BEACH – The Red Bar has come full-circle. After the business burned to the ground in a tragic fire Feb. 13, 2019, it reopened a year and a half later on a day of rain. The drizzle outside did nothing to dampen the spirits inside, however, as owner Oli Petit and his crew triumphantly welcomed guests back to one of the most famous spots along the Emerald Coast.
It’s been a long road to get to re-opening day – one paved with moments of grief and struggle – but the Petits embraced the challenge and saw it as an opportunity to improve.
“It’s a dream come true, it really is,” said a glowing Oli. “It’s just a wonderful moment in time. Clearly there were a lot of hurdles and hoops to jump through, but clearly the community, the local politicians, just everyone stepped up to the plate.
“I can’t tell you how many people have walked in here and literally started crying. The emotion is overwhelming.” – Oli Petit, owner
“I can’t tell you how many people have walked in here and literally started crying. The emotion is overwhelming, and it’s overwhelming to me. I walk in here and I still can’t believe it. It’s really cool.”
Brother and co-owner Philippe Petit said it was their mission to keep the aesthetics of the restaurant and bar intact.
“The best compliment anyone could give us was, ‘Oh, it looks exactly like it did before!’” Phillipe said. “The dining room, the bar are back to their original size and configuration. The thing that has changed, we have a bigger bathroom – as Oli promised – and the kitchen has been modernized to be as efficient as we can be.”
They also paved the patio to improve the outdoor space, which has proved useful during the current public health situation. Phillipe assured that all staff are wearing face masks, tables are spaced 6 feet apart and they are complying with the CDC’s required 50 percent seating capacity.
Locals Cheryl Bartley and Rose Clarno made sure they were among the first in line to visit their favorite watering hole.
“I am so, so happy,” Bartley admitted. “I cried for days when this burned down. I’ve been coming here since this place opened.”
“This is our Sunday Funday spot, and we are so ready for (local band) Dread Clampitt to come back!” Clarno added.
The Wilkison family from Cleveland comes to 30A every-other year, and was thrilled to learn this year’s trip overlapped with the reopening of The Red Bar! “It’s fate!” they said.
Their order included Red Bar’s famous panne chicken sandwiches, tuna dip salad, fish and chips, and – of course – the gumbo.
The lunch menu also includes such hits as shrimp and grits, a Belgian waffle, and the fried shrimp poboy, along with selections from the bar. Dinner expands to include the crab cakes, manicotti, the fresh fish of the day (which was grouper on this night), and a mahi option.
A couple socially distanced tables over, Briley Brothers and Adams Williamson were visiting from Arkansas.
“We’d been here before and it was really good. It was a tragic story, what happened, and we wanted to come show our support,” Williamson explained.
Local restaurateur Dave Raushkolb stopped by on opening day to present Oli with a painting to add to the collection.
“I’m sure we can find some space for it,” Oli said with a laugh, glancing around the space that is literally decorated from floor to ceiling, and then some.
The Red Bar is located at 70 Hotz Ave., in Santa Rosa Beach, and is open for lunch from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and dinner from 4:30 to 10 p.m. seven days a week (11 p.m. on weekends). Parking is not currently available in front of The Red Bar, but guests can instead park for free at Grayton Central on 283 and catch the Grayton Express.